Tim McIlrath

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Tim McIlrath
Tim McIlrath Rise Against.jpg
Tim McIlrath, lead vocalist of Rise Against
Background information
Birth name Timothy James McIlrath
Also known as James Kaspar (pseudonym in The Killing Tree)
Born (1978-11-03) November 3, 1978 (age 37)
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Origin Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Melodic hardcore, punk rock, hardcore punk, post-hardcore, metalcore
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter, lyricist, composer, vocalist, guitarist, bassist
Instruments Vocals, piano, guitar, bass
Years active 1995–present
Labels Fat Wreck Chords, Geffen, DGC, Interscope
Associated acts Rise Against, Baxter, Arma Angelus, The Killing Tree, The Honor System, Berri Txarrak, Cancer Bats, Flobots, Thursday
Notable instruments
Gibson Les Paul
Taylor 814ce

Timothy James "Tim" McIlrath (born November 3, 1978) is an American punk rock musician. He is the lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of the American punk rock band Rise Against. McIlrath is known to support animal rights and actively promotes PETA with his band.[1] He is also straight edge.


Personal life[edit]

Tim McIlrath was born on November 3, 1978 in Indianapolis, Indiana. At a young age he read dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which would influence his later work. As a child he was taunted for his left eye being blue and his right eye brown,[2] known as heterochromia. As a teenager, McIlrath's friends were interested in snowboarding, so he saved his money for a snowboard. But, as his interest in music grew, he instead decided to spend the money he had saved on a Gibson SG guitar.


McIlrath attended Rolling Meadows High School in Rolling Meadows, IL. This was also the set for the music video, "Make It Stop (September's Children)." In college (Northeastern Illinois University), McIlrath majored in English and Sociology. In his junior year, he met Joe Principe at a Sick of It All concert. Principe asked McIlrath to sing over a few tracks that he and Mr. Precision had recorded. It was at this time that Transistor Revolt was formed, and McIlrath left college.

Music career[edit]

Baxter (1995–1999)[edit]

Main article: Baxter (punk band)

McIlrath began his musical career in his early years; he was very active in the Chicago local alternative rock/punk scene. His first band was the post-hardcore band Baxter, formed in 1995 along with future The Lawrence Arms drummer Neil Hennessy and future Killing Tree and Holy Roman Empire bassist Geoff Reu. Their first release was a full length, self released, cassette, Troy's Bucket, which was released in 1996. Troy's Bucket was met with warm reception from the scene, and Baxter became a popular band in the Chicago underground scene.

In 1997 they released a 7" EP Lost Voices on Static Station Records. After some local touring, the band split up.

McIlrath played bass and sang backup in the first incarnation of The Honor System. He sang on their demo and on some songs on their debut album Single File. He and drummer Neil Hennesy could also be found in a brief lineup of the grindcore band Yellow Road Priest, whose members went on to form Pelican. The band broke up in 1999.

Arma Angelus (1998–1999)[edit]

Main article: Arma Angelus

McIlrath joined the band Arma Angelus, Chicago metalcore band fronted by Pete Wentz, who was to become bassist in mainstream pop punk/emo band Fall Out Boy. McIlrath played bass with the band until 1999 when he quit to form Transistor Revolt, which would eventually become Rise Against.

Rise Against (1999–present)[edit]

Main article: Rise Against

In 1999 McIlrath formed the band that would become Rise Against with former 88 Fingers Louie bassist, Joe Principe, guitarist Dan Precision (A.K.A. Mr. Precision), and drummer Toni Tintari under the name 'Transistor Revolt'. Drummer Brandon Barnes did not join until 2001; it was at the same time the band was renamed Rise Against. They officially recorded their debut album The Unraveling on Fat Wreck Chords in 2001.

In 2002 guitarist Mr. Precison left due to arguments with the band, and Todd Mohney filled his role. Later that year they released their second album Revolutions per Minute which was greeted with warm success . They toured the U.S. steadily that year, though by the end of it, Mohney left. In order to replace him, former Reach the Sky guitarist Chris Chasse joined in 2004 and they released their Geffen debut Siren Song of the Counter Culture.

With the release of the singles "Give It All", "Swing Life Away", and "Life Less Frightening", Rise Against became more popular with mainstream fans, but still kept their underground sensibility. After more touring (including a European tour and spots on the Vans Warped tour), the band went back to the studio and recorded their fourth album The Sufferer & the Witness, which included four singles ("Ready to Fall, "Prayer of the Refugee", "The Good Left Undone", and "Behind Closed Doors".)

They had ended their tour and were back in the studio in the process of making their next album, when Chris Chasse decided to leave the band in order to pursue family life.

In 2008, Rise Against recorded their fifth album Appeal to Reason with the help of guitarist Zach Blair, who is now a permanent member and has known the band for many years. Appeal to Reason was released on October 7, 2008. The band recorded it at The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, Colorado with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore, who produced Revolutions Per Minute and The Sufferer & the Witness.

Sziget – 2011

Rise Against's sixth album, Endgame, contains singles "Help Is on the Way", "Architects", and "Make it Stop (September's Children)" as well as "Satellite" and was released on March 15, 2011.[3]

On September 10, 2013, Rise Against released "Long Forgotten Songs" on Interscope Records. It was a compilation album consisting of unreleased b-sides and covers.[4]

On July 15, 2014, Rise against released their seventh album, "The Black Market".

The Killing Tree (1999–2006)[edit]

Main article: The Killing Tree

McIlrath has played in his metalcore side project The Killing Tree along with former Rise Against guitarist Todd Mohney and former Baxter and Holy Roman Empire bassist, Geoff Reu. During the early years of the band, all members used pseudonyms (Tim's being James Kaspar) out of concern for it. The Killing Tree has not produced any music or toured since 2004, but contributed their previously unreleased song "Dressed to Fuck" on the 2006 Thick Records compilation album Hair: Chicago Punk Cuts, which featured Emily Schambra (of Holy Roman Empire) as guest vocals on the song.[5] Schambra also contributed backing vocals on Rise Against's album The Sufferer & the Witness for the songs "The Approaching Curve", "Roadside", and the b-side "But Tonight We Dance".


When the band first began, McIlrath explains how they weren't seeking to gather such a large audience in their pursuit for originality and social justice that defined them as the "black sheep" of punk-rock.[6] The original goal of the band was only to create music, never seen as a long-term group until the band came to a realization of similar activist beliefs that led McIlrath to describe music as a vessel for change. These beliefs began to get integrated into the music most prominently after the release of The Sufferer & The Witness when McIlrath said that he sought to make a difference in the world he lives in as opposed to being one of the bands in the punk/hardcore scene today that are[n't] saying anything important".[7] McIlrath also has been important in promoting his own activist beliefs such as his promotion for PETA and straight-edge ethics.

Political Lyrics[edit]

Having not grown up in a political family, McIlrath says that he was never particularly involved until he began playing punk-rock.[8] After entering the music scene, though, he began to feel a strong connection towards his convictions, specifically animal and human rights. While Rise Against most popular songs aren't political, songs such as "Swing Life Away" and "Make It Stop" have risen to prominence as McIlrath seeks to speak to a generation that he believes is lacking conviction towards their world, as explained throughout the storytelling narrative of the bands albums. The band's begun to seek after more politically and socially challenging lyrics as time progresses, responding to current events such as the song "Help Is On The Way" and its use of support for victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.


McIlrath became a vegetarian at the age of eighteen as a result of his own understanding of the meat-industry as opposed to having it "shoved. . .down my throat.[9] The realization of PETA, an animal rights support group, came through the music scene and McIlrath's own realization of the events that occur within meat processing and inhumane conditions that animals are forced to live in. As time went on, these beliefs got integrated into his lyric writing such as Rise Against video for the single "Ready to Fall" contains footage of factory farming, rodeos, and sport hunting, as well as deforestation, melting ice caps, and forest fires. The group has called the video the most important video they have ever made. In February 2012 the band released a cover of the Bob Dylan song Ballad of Hollis Brown as part of a benefit for Amnesty International.[10] The Director's Cut of the video was first made available to a PETA website.[11] In 2009, the band was voted Best Animal-Friendly Band by PETA.[12] After the release of the film Black Fish, McIlrath worked with PETA to create a video in support of releasing animals in captivity, exclaiming how "I make a choice every time I go out on stage, I choose to perform. Animals in captivity don’t get to make that choice".[13]


McIlrath, along with the rest of the group Rise Against, follow the subculture ideology of "straight edge," a belief that promotes refrain from using alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs, in a reaction to the excesses of punk subculture. Scholars have had issues on deciding whether these resist or reinforce dominant values of society as they reinforce and promote safety through refrain of recreation drugs and alcohol but resist modern culture of music.[14]



  1. ^ "Out There/Top 10 Reasons PETA2 Loves Rise Against". Peta2.com. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  2. ^ "Tim McIlrath". 
  3. ^ "Rise Against enter the studio to record next album". Punknews.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  4. ^ http://www.punknews.org/article/52447/rise-against-detail-long-forgotten-songs
  5. ^ "Various – Hair: Chicago Punk Cuts". Punknews.org. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  6. ^ Noir, Nadia. "CBS Radio Los Angeles". KROQ. 
  7. ^ "An Interview With Tim McIlrath of Rise Against - June, 2006". About.com Entertainment. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  8. ^ "Interview with Rise Against's Tim McIlrath about Punk Politics, Burnout, and Maintaining Hope". Green Is The New Red. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  9. ^ "An Interview With Tim McIlrath of Rise Against - June, 2006". About.com Entertainment. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  10. ^ "Rise Against : Now Playing : Ready To Fall". 2009-02-17. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  11. ^ "Too Graphic For TV". PETA. 
  12. ^ "PETA Media Center > Recent News Releases : Rise Against, Ludo, Fueled by Ramen, MURS, and Pink Snag peta2 Awards". 2009-02-19. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  13. ^ "Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath calls for boycott of SeaWorld - News - Alternative Press". Alternative Press. Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  14. ^ Haenfler, Ross (2006). Straight Edge : Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, and Social Change. Rutgers University Press. pp. 33–34. 

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